Sunday, November 25, 2007


I have finally overcome my prejudice against non-people and am now able to carry on level-headed telephone conversations with machines. No matter how many times I have to be routed either by pressing a button or by making a voice command, I find myself fully at ease and competent in navigating the complexities of the interactive voice response systems I regularly encounter.

I am perfectly comfortable with the ones who call me too, in fact, I find it much easier to conveniently end the conversation with them than with the human telemarketers.

One thing still irks me, though. The machines have an identity crisis. They aren't sure if they should call themselves "I" or "the system" or the royal "we" or just always use the passive voice and avoid identity altogether.

I think it is time that we gave the speaking objects their own pronoun, and I would like to propose the pronoun "Iyt", a mix between "I" and "It". This would make everyone more comfortable. The machine could then just say "Iyt am transferring your call." I'm having more trouble with the direct object, though. Meet and mitt are taken, though "Please tell meet your name," does have a good ring to it.

Well, coining one word is just going to have to be good enough for me. You're welcome to make your own proposals.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Google Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of getting a better ranking for your web site when people search for it on the web. Of course, as we all know, when it comes to search, mostly you just care about your Google ranking.

Firstly, it is a bit sad to see the money being poured into SEO. When you think about it, the bottom line is that there is a whole industry built up around behind tricking the search engines not to give you the most useful results.

Some of that distortion is fine and legitimate. I mean, if you want to buy a stapler, and the stapler sellers are all investing on SEO so you buy staplers from them, that makes sense. But if you want to find out what a stapler does, then you aren't going to get particularly good results, with the exception of Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the fact that Wikipedia is going to end up being the only authoritative souce on (any idea/item) is another distortion of reality. If you are the world's absolute smartest stapler expert, and you have a web site devoted to staples, but you don't have an SEO budget, I'm afraid you probably won't end up with good ranking in the search engines and you had better get yourself listed in Wikipedia.

Back to topic: I accidentally found a good shortcut to doing SEO optimization. Just do a GoogleAds campaign. I did one for a couple of grand, but I would guess that even a couple of hundred would do. Google apparently knows where its bread and butter come from, so if you are running a GoogleAds campaign on your site, you can be sure to get better ranking for that product on regular Google search too. The best part is that it works not only for the product you are promoting; I found I got higher ranking for all my products for the appropriate keywords. Obviously, the keywords had to be in the text of the pages of my site.

BTW, the GoogleAds campaign sucked. There were too many fake content and link sites, proxies, etc. Most of what I got was garbage, and although Google has been polite and responsive about it, all indications are that they aren't willing to take financial responsibility for spoof site results. I ended the campaign quite quickly.

Although I didn't get one useful lead from the GoogleAds campaign itself, I did get quite a number of other leads, both for the target product and others, by improving my search engine rank as a side effect of the GoogleAds campaign.

So if you are running a site on a low budget, I would suggest trying a GoogleAds campaign for improving your Search Engine results. It is a tenth or less of the price of good SEO, and the results seem to be very good. Even on a corporate budget, I am considering replacing my SEO budget with half as much for GoogleAds. I wouldn't be surprised if I get even better results than traditional SEO.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Trust me

The more I use Facebook, the less I trust it. The more I see the granularity of information I've got about my friends, the more I think that privacy is underrated.

For example, one of the popular apps is "Hot or Not" where you rate your friends' appeal. Let me tell you something: there is almost nobody in my life who I would like to know my honest opinion about his hotness. Not my neighbor's son, not my boss, not my cousin, not that guy who hit on me last week, not Jeremiah Owyang, nobody. You tell me: is your best friend's husband hot or not? Neither answer is going to cut it on that one.

I'm using Hot or Not as an example, but it's any application. I don't want all of my "friends" to know who I poked, bit, or hugged, that I joined the AlAnon group, or that I saw the movie Clueless.

Assuming you could answer anonymously -- do you trust Facebook to keep the secret? Do you even trust yourself to click the right button to make it secret? There are tons of privacy and notification settings, and I've played around with a bunch of them. It's not really clear exactly what they do, and obviously, whatever is private to others is still not private to the Facebook backend or to the application writer (who is not Facebook and is not your "friend").

And then there are the friends you don't want. Those people you meet in everyday life that you can't avoid and you are polite to, but you pray they will not "friend" you because there is no way you want anyone to make any connection between the two of you. There is no tactful way to let them know that although your friends include people you have never met, they do not make the grade.

The upside of relinquishing your privacy is that you will get personalized advertising, customized to show you things you really might be interested in buying, rather than random advertising. Glory days!

Assuming you could get excited about any kind of advertising, the level of privacy you are giving up on social networking sites is less than comfortable. Nicholas Carr recently said, basically, that he wished he didn't know, but I wish it didn't happen.

I also recommend reading the cited blog by Nate Weiner. The bottom line is that Facebook isn't only recording what you on Facebook, but also what you are doing outside of Facebook.

Frankly, all of this freaks me out quite a bit. If I take this to the natural extreme, that means everyone I know can know everything I do when I am on my computer. All I can say is F2F meetings are going to become an increasingly important part of my life.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Sound of Your Voice

Social networking enables a tremendous range of communications methods. But if you really want people to do something, there is no substitute for a phone call or in-person visit. A vast amount of my time these days is spent on the phone. And, where possible, on a fixed land line, where I can get good voice quality.

My main non-work-related endeavor these days, for anyone who hasn't caught on, is putting together a party to run for local elections (mayor & city council) in my town, Hod Hasharon. For those purposes, sending out e-mail really sucks. It simply is not possible to get people to physically show up if you send an e-invitation (unless you are really a rockstar). It is not possible to get people to volunteer their time, even for something in their own interest, such as their kids' school council, unless you pick up the phone and talk to them personally.

To get someone to do something, you need to understand their capabilities, their motivation, but moreover -- you need them to believe you understand them. You need them to believe this is going to be a success. You will never achieve this by e-mail. You can't listen to someone by e-mail. You can do it by chat, with certain people under certain circumstances. But for most people, it must be by voice.

E-mail is tempting. At this point, my group is too big for me to be able to call everyone every week. So I use e-mail to update people. But mostly, I have to talk to them. There is no other way to truly motivate.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sick of Social Networking

Only a few days after my recent post on how my moods have improved thanks to social networking, I had the great good fortune to post a definitively down-in-the-dumps status message, no pun intended, due to a stomach virus that's been bugging me for 3 days now. Yes, folks, for some 72 hours my Facebook status has shown the actual truth, which is that I am sick.

This was a good experiment in what happens in social networks when it isn't your birthday, when your life, in fact, sucks. This will be a short post.

Social networks have proven worthless in such situations. As it is, I think most of us generally don't know what to do when someone is distressed. If you are distressed, therefore, my advice to you is to ask people for specific help, and if they offer general help, think of something specific you need.

Though I managed to resist the temptation to ask my friend to clean my house for me, I was able to leverage my real life networks for rides for my kids, a place for them to hang out in the afternoons, and some soup. The best real life networks in my life for this purpose are, surprisingly, the community-oriented networks (neighborhood, school board, synagogue), rather than individual friends. Those networks seem designed for mutual help, rather than intimacy.

Special thanks to Saul, Natie, Rochelle and Sigal, only one of whom is also a facebook friend.